What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?

good sat essay score

To Get a Good SAT Essay Score, Get the Purpose of the Essay

When the new SAT was released a few years ago, the essay became an optional element of the test. Many colleges don’t require it for admissions, as it’s unclear if the essay measures something meaningful to a student’s application.

Nevertheless, if a school requires the SAT essay, you need to know how it’s scored and what the scorers are looking for.

The SAT essay has departed from asking students to take a stance on a topic or weigh in on a perspective. In other words, the SAT essay is not at all about what you, the student, think: the purpose of the essay is to see if you can write without inserting personal opinion.

Now, the essay is a formal analysis of someone else’s argument. This is brilliant, if you ask me, because the College Board has finally created an assessment that more closely mimics the kind of writing students actually need to do in college. Notably, the new essay style is also a lot more like one of the writing tasks on the GRE; in other words, this is real academic writing.

Table of Contents

Academic Writing Is Objective

The SAT essay had to become more objective as students’ writing became more fanciful and, due to cultural trends, more opinion-based.

The A-number-one most important thing you can do to earn a good SAT essay score is to leave your opinions out of the essay.

A Good SAT Score Isn’t an Absolute Number

The SAT Essay is scored on a scale just like the SAT multiple choice tests are. Rather than scoring from 200 to 800, though, the three SAT essay subscores are rated on a scale of 2 to 8. They mimic the 200 to 800 scale in that an 8 is a top score and a 2 is a low score.

Because the SAT essay score is guided by a rubric used by two people, your score is the sum of the scores given to you by those two graders. Your graders individually give you a 1, 2, 3, or 4 on each of the three scoring dimensions identified by the College Board.  

That means that a good SAT essay score is a 6, 7, or 8 on each of the scoring dimensions if we use the logic that a 6 is the sum of two scores of 3 from your graders, and those 3s reflect that both graders thought you adequately accomplished that objectives of that dimension.

Because your SAT essay score is a list of three numbers, (like a possible SAT essay score might be 7, 5, 7), a good SAT essay score is a little less definitive.

One way to consider whether your SAT essay score is good is to take the average of your subscores and then translate them to the 200 to 800 scale. For example, if your SAT essay score were 7, 5, 7, you could average them (add and divide by 3)  to find 6.3, which loosely translates to a 630. It’s easier to sense then, then, that 7, 5, 7 is a pretty good SAT essay score, but probably not as high as you would need for an extremely competitive college that requires the SAT essay section to begin with.

In order to help you maximize your SAT essay score, let’s look at the SAT essay scoring dimensions one by one.

The College Board offers a detailed rubric so that you can dive deeply into SAT Essay scoring. I expand on some of those ideas in my post, How to Write the SAT Essay. Let’s look at some of the highlights here.

Dimension One: Earning a Good SAT Essay Reading Subscore

It might seem odd to see “Reading” as the first dimension on a writing test, but it makes sense: you show how well you read by accurately identifying and articulating precisely what the author of the passage is saying.

Can you identify the author’s argument? Can you cite specific supporting details that she/he uses to make that case?

  • You’re more likely to get a good score here if in your introduction you say that [the author] argues that [what the author wants her audience to believe]. The more specific you are, the better.
  • Take quotes from the passage that support your evidence. These should be short quotes, not two hundred words to stretch out your essay length.
  • Again, leave your opinion out of it. Don’t reinterpret what the author is saying, don’t add in more (like “the author might also think X, Y, and Z” when those things aren’t listed in the argument.

Dimension Two: Earning a Good SAT Essay Analysis Subscore

A good SAT Essay score in the Analysis department shows off that you’re able to trace how an author builds an argument. You’re probably familiar with building an argument, even if you don’t realize it yet:

Imagine you want to convince one of your parents to let you stay out three hours after curfew because you’re going to a concert two hours away. You wouldn’t just ask if you could stay out late; obviously, the answer would be an outright “No.”

Instead, you’d formulate a plan: you’d think of all the logical reasons it’s safe to stay out late, you’d appeal to your parent’s sense of adventure, or maybe his/her sense of pity. Maybe you’d bargain.

Every author on the SAT sample passage that you’ll analyze is creating an argument in similar ways, albeit more formal ones. The Analysis subscore shows that you see how the author is being convincing, not just what the author wants.

Dimension Three: Earning a Good SAT Essay Writing Subscore

Of course, the whole essay element is a “writing” test, but you’ll earn a good SAT essay score on the writing segment when you show off your structural and syntactic prowess.

This is the score that reflects the strength of your writing sample itself, even if you totally misunderstood the author’s argument. Incidentally, preparing for the Writing and Grammar multiple choice section and learning the rules it tests can be a great exercise for the essay section. Use the rules you know for that section to edit your own essay after the fact.

  • Focus on structure when you write the SAT essay–or any essay, for that matter. Think carefully about why each paragraph exists and always loop its last sentence back to your thesis.
  • Vary your sentence structure to keep things interesting. Whether you realize it or not, a subordinate clause at the start of a sentence can draw your reader further into your writing.
  • Show off proper punctuation and how to employ colons, semi-colons, and dashes correctly.
  • If you don’t know how to spell a word, try to avoid using it. This is extra difficult now that we have spell check on every device we use. Poor spelling is distracting to people who read high school English essays and standardized tests essay professionally.

Practice Makes Perfect

Do not take the SAT Essay section without writing several sample essays ahead of time. A time crunch puts pressure on even the best writers; practicing by hand and getting feedback from a trusted teacher or tutor is your best bet. Investing in some SAT prep books wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Compass Education Group

SAT Essay Scores Explained

On january 19th, 2021, college board announced that they will no longer administer the sat subject tests in the u.s. and that the essay would be retired. read our blog post  to understand what this means in the near term and what the college board has in store for students down the road., our articles on subject tests and the sat essay will remain on our site for reference purposes as colleges and students transition to a revised testing landscape..

good sat essay score

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement . While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics—officially or unofficially—based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200–800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2–12) of two readers’ 1–6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2–12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score—which included grammar and usage—entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400–1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2–8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1–4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.

Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable—readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that 80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources—including extensive College Board scoring information—Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.

good sat essay score

College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one—far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores—4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students—especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT , though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th–75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8–10 on the ACT’s old 2–12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5–7 range (possibly closer to 4–6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain a single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8—for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th–75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges—including those at UCLA and Berkeley—are 17–20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges . Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems—California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same—for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85–90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1–2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks  and the use of first person on the essays .

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay .

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements ACT Writing scores explained Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.


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Hi! I’m a high school junior who took the October and November SATs. I got a 1500 on October and then retook it to get a 1590 in November. I’m very happy with my score, but my essays are troubling me. I got a 6-4-6 in October and thought I would improve in November, but I got a 6-3-6. I really cannot improve my actual SAT score, but I don’t understand the essay. I’ve always been a good writer and have consistently been praised for it in English class and outside of class. Is this essay score indicative of my writing skill? And will this essay hurt my chances at Ivy League and other top tier schools? None of the schools I plan on applying to require it, but, since I have to submit it, will it hurt my chances? Thank you so much.

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Maya, The essay is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Honestly, a 6-4-6 is a fine score and will not hurt your chances for admission. It’s something of an odd writing task, so I wouldn’t worry that it doesn’t match your writing skills elsewhere.

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What's a Good SAT Score?

The best SAT score for college applicants depends on their target schools and other factors, experts say.

What's a Good SAT Score?

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Even as many schools move away from requiring standardized test scores, experts say a strong score can still help you stand out as an applicant. Expectations vary by institution.

When they are considered, SAT scores are just a piece of the college admissions process. Schools also review students' GPAs , course rigor, extracurricular activities, essays and letters of recommendation.

Although colleges have historically used standardized test scores to determine "college readiness," some observers say that a student's transcript gives a fuller picture.

"A three-hour test on a Saturday morning is a very brief snapshot into a student's abilities," says Connie Livingston, head of college counselors at college admissions consulting firm Empowerly. "Whereas a transcript really shows how students have grown, improved or maintained their academic excellence throughout the years and how they have maximized those opportunities at their schools."

More than 1,900 four-year colleges have announced plans to go test-optional or test-blind for fall 2024, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit advocacy group.

But even as many schools move away from requiring standardized test scores, experts say a strong score can help an applicant stand out.

That's especially true given evidence that grade inflation has been on the rise. High school GPAs, on average, increased from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021, according to a 2022 report from ACT . At the same time, the highest grade inflation – a term used to describe an increase in students’ grades that doesn't necessarily correlate with an increase in their academic achievement – occurred between 2018 and 2021, an increase of 0.1 grade points, the most recent data show.

"The whole point of a standardized test was for there to be a standardized metric, because a 97 (grade percentage) at one school is not the same thing as a 97 at another high school," says Pranoy Mohapatra, director of New Jersey-based PM Tutoring.

Livingston advises students to take either the SAT or ACT at least once, as long as there are no logistical or financial barriers. From there, students applying to a test-optional school can decide whether it's beneficial to submit their scores.

"If they score well, not only is it another metric or data point for the school to use to evaluate their candidacy, but it could also open up merit aid opportunities," she says.

A Good SAT Score for College Admissions

A strong score is subjective, as expectations vary by institution and sometimes by major .

"If you were applying to an engineering program at a college that is going to admit you from a pool of students who are (also) applying for engineering, the question is not, 'Is your SAT score good?'" And the question is not, 'Is a 1470 a good score?' Because it is a good score," says Evelyn Jerome-Alexander, a certified educational planner and founder of Magellan College Counseling. "But if the 1470 were a 770 on English and a 700 on math, the chances are very high that at a school that has an engineering college, the math score for an engineering applicant or a business applicant will be higher than the critical reading score."

The average SAT score for the high school class of 2022 was 1050, down by 10 points from the class of 2021, according to a report from the College Board, which administers the SAT. That score falls within the range of many schools, like Liberty University in Virginia, where half of the admitted applicants had an SAT score between 1020 and 1220, according to the school's website .

Many other colleges, such as Indiana University—Bloomington , have an average SAT score over 1200 for incoming freshmen. Ivy Leagues and other top universities, like the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, prefer even higher scores – generally over 1500 – their school websites indicate.

Experts suggest students do their research and look up the "middle 50" – the range of scores between the 25th percentile and 75th percentile for the last admitted class – on each college's website to see if their score falls within or above that range. Students should set their target score to either meet or exceed those ranges. They can also aim to reach a school's minimum score requirement for merit aid .

Here's a look at the 25th and 75th SAT percentiles in math and reading combined for newly enrolled students in fall 2022 at the top 10 National Universities , as ranked by U.S. News. California Institute of Technology did not report SAT or ACT scores and through 2025 will not consider them during admissions.

Not only is a good score relative to each college, but also to each student. The strength of the score can depend on an individual's GPA, the rigor of the high school courses they take and where they attend high school, says Amy Seeley, founder and president of Seeley Test Pros, LLC, an Ohio-based tutoring company.

"Students are often judged in comparison to their peers," she says. "So what is the kind of level of work that's happening with other students? If a student is at a school where there are no honors or AP courses , then of course they're not going to be judged as much. But they are going to need a score that sets them apart from the other students at that school."

SAT Percentiles

A score in the 50th percentile means a student scored equal to or higher than 50% of other test-takers. The higher the percentile rank, the better.

The table below shows a breakdown of SAT composite scores by percentile based on exam results, per the most recent College Board data . It shows nationally representative sample percentiles, which are based on a study of juniors and seniors, and are weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades regardless of whether they take the test.

Recommendations to Improve Your SAT Score

Retaking the SAT can be time-consuming and costly, so figure out what your bandwidth is. Consider your home responsibilities, after-school activities and homework load.

"It plays a role in how much time students can spend on test prep and perhaps limit their ability to improve," Mohapatra says.

Some families hire test prep tutors or coaches, but studying for the SAT does not have to cost hundreds of dollars. Students can work independently and use free online test prep resources, like Khan Academy , a College Board partner.

"Our tool gives you insights on the areas where you are already really strong – i.e., don't bother spending more practice time in those areas – and the areas where you are relatively weaker," says Priscilla Rodriguez, senior vice president for college readiness assessments at the College Board.

If a college superscores, a student's highest scores from each section on all test attempts are combined to create a new composite score. In these cases, "you can minimize or reduce your preparation because you may only need to focus on one particular section," Seeley says.

Some schools, however, require applicants to submit all of their test scores from each sitting.

In that case, "I think there is some disagreement within the industry as to whether (retaking the test multiple times) hurts a student or not," Seeley says. "But I've always said that for the most part, a college is going to take your best scores and use that to create their acceptance profile."

Practice is key to improving your scores, but don't overdo it, experts warn. Livingston advises students not to take the SAT more than three times, as their score may start to plateau.

"Test prep should not come at the expense of creating a balanced college list and putting real significant effort into articulating why you are a good fit for each college on your list and why they are a good fit for you," Jerome-Alexander says. "Because colleges look at the transcript primarily and they look heavily at teacher and counselor recommendation letters. But they're looking a lot at essays these days. They really want to hear students' stories. Stories are more valuable than test scores, and if you present yourself in a way that makes yourself memorable and likable, colleges will want you in their class."

Searching for a college? Get our  complete rankings  of Best Colleges.

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What is a Good Score on the SAT Essay?

by Christian | Dec 24, 2017 | SAT Prep | 0 comments

What is a good SAT Essay Score?

Get a higher SAT Essay score - fast - with our instant-download complete course.

Are you getting ready to take the SAT test and wondering “what is a good SAT essay score?” Well, you’re in exactly the right place to study the SAT Essay with a perfect-scoring veteran SAT tutor! Let’s get into it…

What is a Good SAT Essay Score?

So, this article is chock-full of useful info, but let’s get the original question out of the way first. What is a good SAT Essay score?

Well. you have to understand the SAT Essay scoring system to fully understand the question (more details on that below). But for now, let’s just say a pretty “good” SAT Essay score is anything above about a 19 (out of a maximum of 24 points).

Now let me be clear - an 19 would be on the lowest-possible end for what I’d consider basically a “good” SAT Essay score. That’s definitely not a  great SAT Essay score. But it does put you somewhere around the top 20% of students.

If you can get above 22 out of 24,  now you’re looking at an excellent SAT essay score. Of course, shooting for a perfect 24 on your essay is the ideal goal!

But wait a second - let’s back up a bit. What exactly  is the SAT Essay, anyway?

What is the SAT Essay?

Ok, so now you have some idea what a good SAT Essay score is. But what  is the SAT Essay?

Good question. Well, the SAT Essay is an “optional” 50-minute writing assignment , given at the end of the SAT test. Each SAT Essay assignment includes a unique reading passage. But, although the reading passage will change for each test, the prompt and essay task itself is always the same.

In essence, you must provide a “ rhetorical analysis ” of the reading passage. Instead of  responding to the author’s arguments, you are meant to  analyze those arguments and judge their effectiveness at convincing the author’s audience.

You’ll be graded in three key areas:

  • Reading (Do you demonstrate an understanding of the passage?)
  • Analysis (Do you successfully complete the analytical task you’ve been given?)
  • Writing (Is your own essay well-written on every level?)

Now’s not the right time to get into deep strategies or rules for better SAT Essay scores. Luckily, we’ve produced an entire SAT Essay course that will teach you everything you need to know - fast. Click here to get access to download the course from anywhere in the world.

How is Your SAT Essay Scored?

So, how will your SAT Essay be scored? Well, it’s actually kind of interesting, and it’s important to know if you want a great score.

The SAT Essay is the  only section of the test that is graded by humans (that’s also why there’s a small additional charge to register for the SAT Essay).

Each of the two essay graders will quickly read your essay. They’ll follow a specific grading rubric to give you a subscore in each of the three subcategories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

These subscores range from a “1” at the lowest to a “4” at the top. With three subscores, that means each grader can give you anywhere from a “3” to a “12” at the highest. Both graders will give you their own set of subscores, which puts your final score between a “6” at the very lowest, and a “24” for a perfect SAT Essay.

There’s a lot more you need to know about the SAT Essay to excel, but this should at least give you an idea how your writing will be graded.

What is an Average SAT Essay Score?

How about if you’re a student who’s not looking for a  great SAT Essay score, but just an “average” score? What is an average SAT Essay score, anyway?

Well, there will always be a little bit of flex from test to test, but the typical “average” SAT Essay score is a 14 out of 24. Mathematically, the average “should” be a 15 out of 24, which is right in the middle. But, in real life, the overall average actually comes out at 14.

Where does that missing point disappear to? It turns out that many high schoolers struggle with the “Analysis” subscore of the SAT Essay. Probably that’s because they don’t prepare enough for this very specific writing assignment. Then, on test day, the “average” student doesn’t know  exactly what they must do for the Analysis subscore and they lose points. Make sure that’s not you!

What is a Bad SAT Essay Score?

This brings us to a question that’s not exactly fun: “What is a bad SAT Essay score?”

Personally, I dislike negativity - even the worst SAT Essay score is simply a chance to study, practice, and improve!

Still, it’s definitely possible to get a “bad” SAT Essay score. Since you’re using this score as part of your competition to get accepted into college , a bad SAT Essay score is simply any score that keeps you out of your favorite college.

Therefore, we definitely don’t want to be down in the bottom half of SAT Essay scores (a 15 or below).

Even worse would be dropping to a 12 or below. That means you’re only getting “2’s” on your subscores from both graders - definitely not where you want your score to be if you’re looking seriously at most decent colleges (at least the ones that require SAT Essay scores).

Wait up a second - did I just say “the colleges that require SAT Essay scores”? Does that mean that  not all students need to take the SAT Essay? Read on to find out…

Is the SAT Essay Section Required?

So, considering that the SAT Essay will add some extra stress, time, and work to your testing day, is the essay even considered a mandatory section of the SAT test?

Well, the truth is that the SAT Essay is an “optional” section. You can select to register for the test with or without the essay section. It’s an easy choice during the official SAT registration process. There’s a small additional fee to take the SAT test with the Essay, but as a pro tutor it’s something I consider important for most students.

While it’s true that not every student needs to take the SAT Essay, it’s usually better to be safe than sorry. After all, if you realize later that you  did need an SAT Essay score for your college applications, you’ll have to take the  entire SAT test again, just for a single chance at the essay at the end of the test!

This leads right into the next question about the SAT Essay….

Does Your SAT Essay Score Even Matter?

Now, here’s the million-dollar question: does your SAT Essay score even matter, in the big scheme of things?

Well, I wish I could give you a short answer to that. But the truth is, it depends on your priorities in life .

If you’re applying to Harvard for a Creative Writing degree, then a bad SAT Essay score is really going to hurt your chances.

But, if you’re applying to one of the many schools that does  not look at your SAT Essay score, then of course your essay scores won’t matter a single bit - even if they’re perfect.

Most students will fall somewhere in-between. For example, some of the colleges you apply to will “require” you to submit some SAT Essay scores, but they won’t  really look to hard at your essay scores.

In other words, many colleges do consider your SAT Essay, but few schools put a tremendous weight on the significance of your Essay score.

Your SAT Essay score tends to matter more and more for each of the points below:

  • Applying to “elite” colleges and universities.
  • Applying for writing or literary degrees.
  • Applying to many schools that require an SAT Essay score.

How Do You Get a Good Score on Your SAT Essay?

First things first - to cut to the chase for a much higher score on your SAT essay, click here and get our complete SAT Essay course . It’s our premier course on the SAT and ACT Essay from a perfect-scoring veteran tutor, and it’s available for instant download anywhere in the world.

Here are the keys to a higher SAT Essay score:

  • Knowing of the SAT essay scoring system.
  • Using a clear and dependable essay-writing strategy.
  • Writing multiple practice SAT essays on different prompts.
  • Focusing hard and using every available minute on test day.

Each of these bullet points (and much more) are covered in deep strategic detail in our SAT Essay course . So get it today - it will help, trust me. Best of all, the course is covered with a 100% money-back guarantee, so you really can’t go wrong.

If you’re looking for more free info on the SAT Essay, start with this article . Our free blog articles won’t be quite as well-organized or thorough as our complete essay course, but we’ve still published plenty of useful info to keep you busy!

Get Higher SAT Essay Scores Today!

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SAT Essay Score...

SAT Essay Scores: All about SAT Essay Score Range


SAT Essay is the one which requires students to read a foundation text and then analyse how the novelist uses several techniques to build their argument. Each SAT Essay entails one passage between 650 and 750 words that students will read and then reply to. Students have 50 minutes to analyse the text and frame their responses. The SAT Essay comprises three main parts:

  •       Reading Prompt
  •       Reading Selection
  •       Essay Instruction

In 2021, College Board made SAT an optional section. It does not affect your overall score of 1600. Instead, your Essay grade stands unaccompanied on your score report. So, to know more about SAT essay score range & much more information on the same. We have curated a guide below about SAT essay scores and their importance with other general information.

SAT Essay Score Ranges: Highest, Good, and Average SAT Scores

Two scorers will assess your essay response. Each grader will allocate SAT essay score range of 1-4 in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The highest grade you can achieve is 8 in all 3 sections, and the lowest score can be 2 for each of the three sections of the SAT Essay Paper.

·       Highest SAT Essay Score

The essay SAT score is an optional part of SAT with a self-regulating scoring system, i.e., means essay score is not involved in the total maximum SAT score of 1600. An evaluator will give you between 1 and 4 points for each section. In totality, each dimension is being scored out of 8 likely points. The 3 separate scores out of 8 points mean that the highest possible SAT essay full score is 8-8-8, or 24 total points.

·       Good SAT Essay Score

Any SAT score above the 50th SAT essay score percentiles, or median, is measured as a good result since it designates that you have done good out of the majority of students. A 50th percentile score, on the other side, will not be sufficient at most admired universities. Depending on how competitive the student pool is, the standard for a high SAT score rises meaningly. This is why it’s usually a good idea to aim for a 1200 or above score.

·       Average SAT Essay Score

There are diverse ways and parameters for calculating the average SAT Essay Scores. However, an average SAT Essay score is 14 out of 24 points for all three sections. The average SAT essay score range is 5 out of 8 for the Reading section, 3 out of 8 for the Analysis Section, and 5 out of 8 for Writing.

Suggested: Everything about SAT Exam Pattern

Why is SAT Essay Score Important?

SAT essay, however, is a completely different exercise: it's a 50-minute rhetorical analysis essay at the end of a three-hour test. According to the College Board's SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report, 68% of students chose to take the essay. The SAT essay requires you to analyse a convincing argument. Topics for the passage can vary significantly but will always be about an argument written for an extensive audience.

 The SAT essay gives you a track to polish it. You can show off your creativity, critical thinking skills, and writing. You can also highlight the colleges where you're enthusiastic about going the extra mile.

Suggested: What Is Considered A Good SAT Score to Study Abroad?

How to Prepare for SAT Essay?

Success on the SAT score with Essay depends on preparation as well as implementation. Here are a few tips that an undergraduate student can go through to prepare well for the SAT essay score.

1.       Study Sample Passages and SAT Essay Prompts

To understand the concept of the SAT essay, go through study sample passages to get high scores in each of the scoring sections, and take time to analyse example SAT essay prompts. As you go through each of the example passages and consistent responses, study how and why the author used to sign, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements.

2.       Understand the SAT Essay Scoring System

Two readers will score your Essay distinctly and allocate a score of 1 to 4 for each of the 3 sections that include reading, analysis, and writing. Your analysis score will imitate how well your essay analyses how the author went about urging the audience. Also, SAT essay score reports offer these three distinct scores, each on a 2 to 8 scale.

3.       Begin with an Outline

An outline helps you plan your writing by giving you a clear logic of direction when transitioning from one point to the next. Planning out your method for an introduction, body, and conclusion when the content is fresh in your mind will safeguard that you don't reach the end of your answer with blocks in your argument.

4.       Make Time for Edits

After making all the approaches and figuring out how to write SAT essay, aim to take out some time in the end for review. In doing so, you may catch misunderstood information or find other ways to extra build on the points you made in your response.

Suggested: SAT Preparation Books to Ace Your Score

The choice is eventually yours to take SAT essay or not, but there are pros to taking the SAT with Essay even if a college or university you're interested in doesn't require it. A clear profit would be that it opens up your possible college choices, regardless of what you've decided on presently. Besides, if you want to know about SAT Score and other information, connect with our Yocket Counsellors and get 15 min free consultation to clear your queries efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions about SAT Essay Score

What is a good score on SAT essay?

A good SAT essay score would be three 8's; that's a 4 from both graders in all three categories.

Which colleges abroad require SAT Essay?

There are some colleges abroad where SAT essay is required: 1) Benedictine University 2) City University London 3) Delaware State University 4) University of North Texas 5) Dominican University of California 6) DeSales University 7) Western Carolina University 8) Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Is the SAT Essay mandatory?

In June 2021, the College Board chose to discontinue the SAT essay. Now, only students in a few states and school regions still have access to and must complete the SAT essay. This obligation applies to some students in the SAT School Day program.

Is 22 a good SAT essay score?

If you can achieve above 22 out of 24, it is the highest SAT score.

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Are Your SAT Scores Good Enough?

Learn what selective colleges consider good SAT scores for admission

Average SAT Scores

  • What's Considered a Good SAT Score?

Sample SAT Data for Selective Colleges and Universities

Private universities — sat score comparison (mid 50%), liberal arts colleges — sat score comparison (mid 50%), more about sat scores, the sat writing section, more sat data for selective colleges, sat subject test data, what if your sat scores are low.

  • Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT

What is a good SAT score on the SAT exam? For the 2020 admissions year, the exam consists of two required sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Mathematics. There is also an optional essay section. The scores from each required section can range from 200 to 800, so the best possible total score without the essay is 1600.

There are different ways to calculate what an "average" score is for the SAT. For the Evidence-Based Reading section, the College Board predicts that if all high school students took the exam, the average score would be a little over 500. For college-bound students who typically take the SAT, that average goes up to about 540. This latter number is probably the more meaningful one since it is the average among the students you are competing with on the college admissions front.

For the Math section of the exam, the average score for all high school students is very similar to the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section—a little over 500. For college-bound students who are likely to take the SAT, the average Math score is a little over 530. Here again that latter number is probably the more meaningful one since you would want to compare your score to other college-bound students.

Note that the exam changed significantly in March of 2016 , and the average scores are a little higher today than they had been before 2016.

What's Considered a Good SAT Score?

Averages, however, don't really tell you what kind of score you're going to need for selective colleges and universities. After all, every student who gets into a school like Stanford or Amherst is going to be well above average. The table below can give you a sense of the typical score ranges for students who were admitted to different types of highly selective colleges and universities. Keep in mind that the table shows the middle 50% of matriculated students. 25% of students got  below the lower number , and 25% scored higher than the upper number.

You're obviously in a stronger position if your scores are in the upper ranges in the tables below. Students in the lower 25% of the score range are going to need other strengths to make their applications stand out. Also keep in mind that being in the top 25% does not guarantee admission. Highly selective colleges and universities reject students with near perfect SAT scores when other parts of the application fail to impress the admissions folks.

In general, a combined SAT score of roughly 1400 will make you competitive at nearly any college or university in the country. The definition of a "good" score, however, is entirely dependent upon what schools you're applying to. There are hundreds of test-optional colleges where SAT scores don't matter, and hundreds of other schools where average scores (roughly 1050 Reading + Math) will be perfectly adequate for receiving an acceptance letter.

The table below will give you a sense of the types of scores you'll need for a wide range of selective public and private colleges and universities.

Public Universities — SAT Score Comparison (mid 50%)

View the ACT version of this article

SAT scores aren't the most important part of a college application (your academic record is), but aside from colleges that are test-optional, they can play a big role in a school's admissions decision. Mediocre scores aren't going to cut it at the country's most selective colleges and universities, and some public universities have concrete cut-off numbers. If you score below the required minimum, you won't be admitted.

If you aren't happy with your performance on the SAT, keep in mind that all colleges are happy to accept either ACT or SAT scores regardless of where in the country you live. If the ACT is your better exam, you can almost always use that exam. This ACT version of this article can help guide you.

You'll find that most schools report critical reading and math scores, but not the writing scores. This is because the writing part of the exam never fully caught on when it was introduced in 2005, and many schools still do not use it in their admissions decisions. And when the redesigned SAT rolled out in 2016, the writing section became an optional part of the exam. There are some colleges that require the writing section, but the number of schools with that requirement has been rapidly declining in recent years.

The table above is just a sampling of admissions data. If you look at the SAT data for all of the Ivy League schools , you'll see that all require scores that are well above average. The SAT data for other top private universities , top liberal arts colleges , and top public universities is similar. In general, you're going to want math and reading scores that are at least in the high 600s to be competitive.

You'll notice that the bar for top public universities tends to be a little lower than for private universities. It's generally easier to get into UNC Chapel Hill or UCLA than it is to get into Stanford or Harvard. That said, realize that the public university data can be a little misleading. The admissions bar for in-state and out-of-state applicants can be quite different. Many states require that the majority of admitted students come from in-state, and in some cases this means that admissions standards are significantly higher for out-of-state applicants. A combined score of 1200 might suffice for in-state students, but out-of-state applicants might need a 1400.

Many of the country's top colleges require applicants to take at least a couple SAT Subject Tests. Average scores on the subject tests are significantly higher than on the general exam, for the subject tests are taken primarily by strong students who are applying to top colleges. For most schools that require subject tests, you're going to be most competitive if those scores are up in the 700 range. You can learn more by reading about score information for different subjects: Biology | Chemistry | Literature | Math | Physics .

The SAT can create a lot of anxiety for students whose scores aren't in line with their college aspirations. Realize, however, that there are plenty of  ways to compensate for low SAT scores . There are many excellent colleges for students with not-so-great scores  as well as hundreds of test-optional colleges . You can also work to improve your scores with approaches that range from buying an SAT prep book to enrolling in a Kaplan SAT prep course . 

Whether you work hard to raise your SAT score, or you look for colleges that don't require high scores, you'll find that you have plenty of college options whatever your SAT scores are.

  • Good ACT Scores for College Admission
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  • What's a Good Chemistry SAT Subject Test Score in 2020?
  • What's a Good SAT Literature Subject Test Score?
  • How to Understand SAT Scores in College Admissions Data
  • What's a Good Biology SAT Subject Test Score in 2021?
  • SAT Scores for Admission to 30 Top Liberal Arts Colleges
  • What's a Good SAT Subject Test Score?
  • 2019–2020 SAT Score Release Dates
  • SAT and ACT Scores for Admission to Top Public Liberal Arts Colleges
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  • Low ACT Scores?
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  • What's a Good SAT Math Subject Test Score in 2019?


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, sat essay tips: 15 ways to improve your score.

SAT Writing , SAT Essay


Whether you've never written an SAT Essay or didn't get the score you wanted on your last test, you can benefit from knowing more: both about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.

To introduce you to what you'll have to do, we've gathered up these 15 tips to master the SAT essay . If you can reliably follow all these points, you'll be able to get at least a 6/6/6 on the SAT essay—guaranteed.

UPDATE: SAT Essay No Longer Offered

In January 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer offer the Essay portion of the SAT (except at schools who opt in during School Day Testing). It is now no longer possible to take the SAT Essay, unless your school is one of the small number who choose to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.

While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, this move by the College Board means no colleges now require the SAT Essay. It will also likely lead to additional college application changes such not looking at essay scores at all for the SAT or ACT, as well as potentially requiring additional writing samples for placement.

What does the end of the SAT Essay mean for your college applications? Check out our article on the College Board's SAT Essay decision for everything you need to know.

The Challenge

The SAT Essay is a very short assignment. You only get 50 minutes to read a 650-750 word passage, analyze the devices the author uses to structure her/his argument, and write a full-fledged essay —and it can pass in a flash if you don't have a method for attacking it.

Writing an SAT essay requires a very specific approach that's unlike the essays you've been writing for English class in school. The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 50 minutes you've got. In this article, we give you 15 key tips for the SAT essay.

The first five tips in this article relate to what the College Board tells us about what's a good essay. The next five are truths that the College Board doesn't want you to know (or doesn’t make explicit). And the last five tips for SAT essay writing show you how to build an SAT essay, step by step.

What the College Board Does Tell You: 5 Tips

The College Board explains the main components of the successful SAT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed:

#1: Give a Clear Thesis

The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a precise central claim.”

What this means is that your essay needs to make a clear argument that the reader can easily identify.  All you have to do to create your "precise central claim" is to identify the main idea of the passage and list the methods the author uses to support it.

Fortunately, the SAT provides you with the passage’s main idea, so you don’t have to go hunting for it yourself. I've bolded the claim in this (fake) sample prompt so you can see this for yourself:

Write an essay in which you explain how Sam Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters . In your essay, analyze how Lindsay uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Lindsay’s claims, but rather explain how Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience.

Now, here's an example of a thesis statement for an essay responding to this prompt:

In the article “Monsters Monsters Everywhere,” Sam Lindsay uses personal anecdotes, vivid language, and appeals to emotion to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters.

It's fine to copy the exact words describing the author’s central claim from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on-topic.

#2: Include Both an Introduction and a Conclusion

The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a skillful introduction and conclusion.”

Including an introduction paragraph in your essay is absolutely essential to getting a Writing score above a 4 (out of 8). The introduction paragraph introduces the reader to what you’ll be talking about and allows you to set up the structure for the rest of the essay. Plus, an introduction can be a pretty good indicator of the quality for the rest of the essay—a poorly constructed introduction is often a warning that the essay that follows will be equally discombobulated.

It's best to have both an introduction and a conclusion, but if you’re running short on time and can only have one, definitely pick the introduction. The main reason for this is that a good introduction includes your thesis statement. For the SAT essay, your thesis (or your "precise central claim") should be a statement about what devices the author uses to build her/his argument.

Introductions can be tricky to write, because whatever you write in that paragraph can then make you feel like you’re locked into writing just about that. If you’re struggling with the introduction paragraph, leave yourself 10 blank lines at the beginning of the essay and jump into writing your body paragraphs. Just make sure you remember to go back and write in your introduction before time’s up!

#3: Use Effective Language and Word Choice

There are a couple of parts of the Writing score section on the SAT essay rubric that pertain directly to style.

The SAT essay rubric states this about a perfect-Writing-score essay: "The response is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language."

For most of us, "command of language" is an area that takes a long time to develop, so unless your language skills are really rough or you're prepping at least a year ahead of time (or both), you'll probably get more out of focusing on the other components of the essay.

The SAT essay rubric also states: “The response has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.”

This basically boils down to: don't be repetitive and don't make grammar mistakes. In addition, you should avoid using first person statements like "I" or "My" in the essay, along with any other informality. You're writing the equivalent of a school paper, not an opinion piece.

Bad (Too informal):

“I think that Sam’s super persuasive in this article cause she’s just so passionate. It made me feel kinda bad that I don’t really monster it up in my everyday life.”

Good (Formal):

“Lindsay’s passionate defense of how drawing monsters 'allows us to laugh at our personal foibles' causes her audience to put themselves in her shoes and empathize with her position.”

Finally, try to use different words to describe the same idea—don't use "shows" 15 times. Take the chance to show off your vocabulary ( if, and only if , the vocabulary is appropriate and makes sense) . This component is the biggest reason why revising your SAT Essay is essential—it's fast and easy to change repeated words to other ones after you're finished, but it can slow you down during writing to worry about your word choice. If you're aiming for a top score, using advanced vocabulary appropriately is vital.

#4: Only Use Information From the Passage

All the relevant information is in the passage, so avoid getting drawn into the topic and using your outside knowledge—you want to be sure to show that you’ve read the passage.

In real life, there are many ways to support a thesis, depending on the topic. But on the SAT, there's one kind of correct support: specific details drawn from the passage you’re asked to analyze . We'll show you more below.

#5: Focus Your Essay on Relevant Details

You don’t have to mention every single detail that makes the argument effective. In fact, your essay will be more coherent and more likely to score higher in Analysis if you focus your discussion on just a few points . It's more important to show that you're able to pick out the most important parts of the argument and explain their function that it is to be able to identify every single persuasive device the author used.

Think about it as if you were asked to write a 50-minute essay describing the human face and what each part does. A clear essay would just focus on major features—eyes, nose, and mouth. A less effective essay might also try to discuss cheekbones, eyebrows, eyelashes, skin pores, chin clefts, and dimples as well. While all of these things are part of the face, it would be hard to get into detail about each of the parts in just 50 minutes.


And this is the eye, and this is the other eye, and this is the...other eye...and the other eye...and the other...wait...what's going on here?

What the College Board Doesn’t Tell You: 5 Secrets

Even though the SAT essay has clearly stated, publicly-available guidelines, there are a few secrets to writing the essay that most students don't know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.

#1: Read the Prompt Before the Passage

Why? Because the prompt includes the description of the author’s claim. Knowing what the author’s claim is going into the article can help keep you focused on the argument, rather than getting caught up in reading the passage (especially if the topic is one you're interested in).

#2: Your Facts Must Be Accurate…But Your Interpretation Doesn’t Have to Be

A big part of the Analysis score for the SAT essay is not just identifying the devices the author uses to build her argument, but explaining the effect that the use of these devices has on the reader . You don’t have to be completely, 100% accurate about the effect the passage has on the reader, because there is no one right answer. As long as you are convincing in your explanation and cite specific examples, you’ll be good.

Here's an example of an interpretation about what effect a persuasive device has on the reader (backed by evidence from the passage):

Lindsay appeals to the emotions of her readers by describing the forlorn, many-eyed creatures that stare reproachfully at her from old school notebook margins. The sympathy the readers feel for these forgotten doodles is expertly transferred to Lindsay herself when she draws the connection between the drawn monsters and her own life: “Often, I feel like one of these monsters—hidden away in my studio, brushes yearning to create what no one else cares to see.”

Now, you don't necessarily know for sure if "sympathy for the doodles" is what the author was going for in her passage. The SAT essay graders probably don't know either (unless one of them wrote the passage). But as long as you can make a solid case for your interpretation, using facts and quotes from the passage to back it up , you'll be good.

#3: You Should Write More Than One Page

This has always been true for the SAT essay, but for the first time ever, the College Board actually came out in The Official SAT Study Guide and explicitly said that length really does matter . Here's the description of a one-paragraph, 120-word-long student response that received a Writing score of 2/8 (bolding mine).

“Due to the brief nature of the response , there is not enough evidence of writing ability to merit a score higher than 1. Overall, this response demonstrates inadequate writing .” (source: The Official SAT Study Guide , p. 176 )

You’ll have one page for (ungraded) scrap paper that you can use to plan out your essay, and four pages of writing paper for the essay—plan on writing at least two pages for your essay .

#4: Be Objective When Reading the Passage

Being able to stay detached while reading the passage you'll be writing the essay about can be tricky. This task might be especially difficult for students who were used to the old SAT essay (which pretty much made it mandatory for you to choose one side or the other). You’ll have to practice reading persuasive essays and gaining objectivity (so that you are able to write about how the argument is constructed, not whether it’s good or bad).

A good way to practice this is to read news articles on topics you care deeply about by people who hold the opposite view that you do . For instance, as a composer and violist/violinist, I might read articles about how children should not be encouraged to play musical instruments, since it holds no practical value later on in life (a view I disagree with vehemently). I would then work on my objectivity by jotting down the central ideas, most important details, and how these details relate to the central ideas of the article .

Being able to understand the central ideas in the passage and details without being sidetracked by rage (or other emotions) is key to writing an effective SAT essay.


Don't let the monster of rage distract you from your purpose.

#5: Memorize and Identify Specific Persuasive Techniques

Once you’re able to read articles objectively (as discussed in point #4 above), the next step is to be able to break down the essay passage's argument . To do this successfully, you'll need to be aware of some of the techniques that are frequently used to build arguments.

The SAT essay prompt does mention a few of these techniques (bolding mine):

As you read the passage below, consider how Lindsay uses

  • evidence, such as facts or examples , to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion , to add power to the ideas expressed.

It’s certainly possible to wing it and go into the test without knowing specific names of particular persuasive devices and just organically build up your essay from features you notice in the article. However, it's way easier to go into the essay knowing certain techniques that you can then scan the passage for .

For instance, after noting the central ideas and important details in the article about how more works of art should feature monsters, I would then work on analyzing the way the author built her argument. Does she use statistics in the article? Personal anecdotes? Appeal to emotion?

I discuss the top persuasive devices you should know in more detail in the article " 6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt ".

How to Get All the Necessary Components in 50 Minutes: 5 Step-By-Step Strategies

When you write an SAT essay, you only have 50 minutes to read, analyze, and write an essay, which means that you need a game plan going in. Here's a short step-by-step guide on how to write an effective SAT essay.

#1: Answer the Prompt

Don’t just summarize the passage in your essay, or identify persuasive devices used by the author—instead, be sure to actually analyze the way the author of the passage builds her argument. As  The Official SAT Study Guide states ,

"[Y]our discussion should focus on what the author does, why he or she does it, and what effect this is likely to have on readers."

College Board makes a point of specifying this very point in its grading rubric as well—an essay that scores a 2 (out of 4) or below in Analysis " merely asserts, rather than explains [the persuasive devices'] importance. " If you want to get at least a 3/4 (or a 6/8) in Analysis, you need to heed this warning and stay on task .

#2: Support Your Points With Concrete Evidence From the Passage

The best way to get a high Reading score for your essay is to quote from the passage appropriately to support your points . This shows not only that you’ve read the passage (without your having to summarize the passage at all), but also that you understand what the author is saying and the way the author constructed her argument.

As an alternative to using direct quotations from the passage, it’s also okay to paraphrase some of what you discuss. If you are explaining the author's argument in your own words, however, you need to be extra careful to make sure that the facts you're stating are accurate —in contrast to scoring on the old SAT essay, scoring on the new SAT essay takes into account factual inaccuracies and penalizes you for them.

#3: Keep Your Essay Organized

The SAT essay rubric states: “The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.”

The main point to take away from this is that you should follow the standard structure for an SAT essay (introduction-body-body-conclusion) . Using a basic four- to five-paragraph essay structure will both keep you organized and make it easier for the essay graders to follow your reasoning—a win-win situation!

Furthermore, you should connect each paragraph to each other through effective transitions. We'll give you ways to improve your performance in this area in the articles linked at the end of this article.

#4: Make Time to Read, Analyze, Plan, Write, and Revise

Make sure you allocate appropriate amounts of time for each of the steps you’ll need to take to write the essay—50 minutes may seem like a long time, but it goes by awfully quick with all the things you need to do.

Reading the passage, analyzing the argument, planning your essay, writing your essay, and revising are all important components for writing an 8/8/8 essay. For a breakdown of how much time to spend on each of these steps, be sure to check out our article on how to write an SAT essay, step-by-step .


#5: Practice

The more you practice analysis and writing, the better you’ll get at the task of writing an SAT essay (as you work up to it a little at a time).

It's especially important to practice the analysis and writing components of the essay if you are a slow reader (since reading speed can be difficult to change). Being able to analyze and write quickly can help balance out the extra time you take to read and comprehend the material. Plus, the time you put into working on analysis and writing will yield greater rewards than time spent trying to increase your reading speed.

But don't forget : while it’s okay to break up the practice at first, you also really do need to get practice buckling down and doing the whole task in one sitting .

What’s Next?

This is just the beginning of improving your SAT essay score. Next, you actually need to put this into practice with a real SAT essay.

Looking to get even deeper into the essay prompt? Read our complete list of SAT essay prompts and our detailed explanation of the SAT essay prompt .

Hone your SAT essay writing skills with our articles about how to write a high-scoring essay, step by step and how to get a 8/8/8 on the SAT essay .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points?

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep classes . We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

Our classes are entirely online, and they're taught by SAT experts . If you liked this article, you'll love our classes. Along with expert-led classes, you'll get personalized homework with thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step, custom program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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  • A perfect SAT score is 1600.
  • The minimum score is 400.
  • The average for the class of 2023 was 1010

Most of you reading this aren’t 33 yet; instead, you’re probably looking to take the SAT for the first time. It’s a daunting test, not least because of its length: three hours, not including breaks or the (optional) essay. The Reading section alone is a continuous 65 minutes. That’s a long time to focus! The good news is that with practice, you can sharpen your skills and achieve your own personal “good” score. What number is that, exactly?

The Importance of a Baseline

If you haven’t taken the SAT yet, be like Hasan Minhaj and sign up for a free practice SAT online or at any of our locations across the country.

Comparison #1: Your SAT Score vs. the National Average

If your ultimate SAT score (or superscore ) is close to the national average, then you’ll have a solid chance of gaining admission to a variety of schools. ( Good grades really help! They’re the single most important factor in college admissions decisions.) The higher your SAT score, the better your chances of admission at selective schools will be. Plus, high SAT scores also drive merit-based aid at many schools, so earning an above-average score can also save you lots of money — and spare you from accruing significant college debt. In contrast, a score that is well below average is considered low at just about any four-year school. You may be able to balance low scores with a standout college application at some colleges, but even if you're accepted, the school may ask you to take some college-readiness courses before enrolling. And you won’t be as likely to earn merit-based financial aid. 

Comparison #2: Your SAT Score vs. Typical Scores at Your Target Schools

It matters less how students perform at the national level than how they perform at a few key local levels — namely, your target schools. (These numbers are, of course, related: A selective school will be able to boast student SAT scores that exceed the national average by greater margins than those at its less competitive counterparts.) Not sure how you measure up? You can use our college search to find the online profiles of schools you want to research. Look up the profiles of the schools on your wishlist, and click over to the “Admissions” tab. Our college profiles report the middle 50% range of test scores for entering first-year students. Do your scores fall in the lower end of a school's range? That school may be a longshot (though still possible with some SAT prep !). Do your scores fall well within the school's average range? That college or university could be a match! The scores you see are your goals to set — and, ideally, the ones to beat. Remember that the higher you can score, the more likely you are to make yourself eligible for merit-based aid.

The Takeaway

Unless you earned a perfect SAT score, you can always improve your score. Find out your baseline , and then see how it compares to typical scores at your target schools . While colleges consider a lot of factors when they make admissions decisions, standardized test scores are an important piece of your college application. Higher scores mean more college options for you. A good SAT test score can also help you snag additional merit scholarship money — even at test-optional schools .

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What Is a Good SAT Score in 2023?

What’s covered:, what is the average sat score, how to set your target sat score, what is the average sat score at top schools, how does the sat impact my college chances.

What is a good SAT score? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. A “good score” depends on a variety of factors, including personal context, overall average test scores, and the schools on your college list. 

SAT scores are incredibly important at top schools. Many use students’ transcripts and test scores to filter out unqualified applicants, so it’s important to know how you compare to accepted students to understand your chances.

Keep reading to learn some strategies to determine what a good SAT score is for you, how to set an SAT goal for yourself, and what the average SAT score is at some of the top colleges in the country. 

Alone‌, ‌an‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌score‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌a‌ ‌number—‌it’s‌ ‌how‌ ‌your‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌score‌ ‌compares‌ ‌against‌ ‌others‌ ‌that‌ give‌ ‌it‌ ‌context.‌ ‌Let’s‌ ‌face‌ ‌it: ‌if‌ ‌you‌ ‌scored‌ ‌the‌ ‌highest‌ ‌on‌ ‌an‌ ‌exam‌ ‌but‌ ‌only‌ ‌answered‌ ‌half‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ questions‌ ‌correctly,‌ ‌your‌ ‌50%‌ ‌means‌ ‌something‌ ‌different‌ ‌than‌ ‌your‌ ‌75%‌ ‌on‌ ‌an‌ ‌exam‌ ‌where‌ the‌ ‌highest‌ ‌score‌ ‌was‌ ‌98%.‌ ‌ ‌

The‌ ‌table‌ ‌below‌ ‌shows‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌scores‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌average‌ ‌percentile‌ ‌of‌ ‌2022 test-takers ‌who scored‌ ‌below‌ ‌that‌ ‌number.‌ ‌The‌ ‌higher‌ ‌your‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌User‌ Percentile,‌ ‌the‌ ‌better‌ ‌your‌ ‌score‌ ‌is‌ perceived to be‌ ‌by‌ ‌colleges‌ ‌and‌ ‌scholarship‌ ‌committees.‌ ‌

When we talk about SAT scores, we are actually talking about three different data points. Students who take the SAT receive one score from 200-800 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test (EBWR), and another score ranging from 200-800 for the Math test, leading to a composite score ranging from 400-1600, which is the sum of the section scores. 

According to the 2022 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report , the average ERW score was 529, the average Math score was 521, and the average overall composite score was 1050.  

SAT College Readiness Benchmarks

The SAT College Readiness Benchmarks offer college-bound students an indication of how prepared they are for higher education, and are predictive of students’ performance in college-level courses. SAT scorecards use a color-coded scale to represent readiness.  

  • Green: Section score meets or exceeds the benchmark
  • Yellow: Section score is within one year of academic growth for the benchmark
  • Red: Section score is below the benchmark by more than one year of academic growth

The current SAT College Readiness Section Scores are: 

A great SAT score for one student is potentially a disappointment for another. A few factors to consider when determining what a good SAT score is for you are:

There is a certain amount of subjectivity to consider when looking at SAT scores. A great SAT score for one student may not be a great score for another student. If you’re trying to set a target for your SAT score, there are a few different factors you should consider. 

1. What Is Your Starting Point?

Take a practice SAT to find out your starting point. Take the test under actual testing conditions, using the same resources and time constraints you’d have during an official test. This will give a realistic picture of where you’re starting from in your studying journey. Alternatively, you could use your PSAT score. Check what percentile you achieved on your PSAT and compare it to the same percentile SAT score to get a rough idea of what you might score on the SAT. 

Once you start studying, your score will hopefully improve. In general, the lower your initial score is, the more improvement you’ll see. If your score on a particular section is below 500, you may feasibly improve up to 200 points. For higher scores, you can aim to improve between 100 and 150 points. 

You should also realize that you’ll likely take the actual SAT test more than once, and your score will likely continue to improve each time you take it. Most students take the SAT two or three times, and the greatest score increases on actual tests occur between the first and second test administration. 

No matter where you’re starting from, establishing a baseline can help you set realistic goals for your SAT score based on the time you have before college applications and scholarship deadlines.  

2. What Colleges Do You Want to Attend?  

The other factor you’ll need to consider when setting a target score is what the SAT score range is at the colleges you want to attend. Generally, the more selective a college is, the higher the average SAT score of admitted students will be. Therefore, if you want to attend a selective college, you should expect to achieve a top SAT score to be a competitive applicant.

Most colleges release their middle 50% ranges, meaning that the middle 50% of accepted students scored in that range, with 25% scoring below and above. For example, if a school’s middle 50% SAT range is 1320-1450, 25% of students scored below 1320, 50% scored 1320-1450, and 25% of students scored above 1450. It’s important to have a score that is up to par with these ranges.

Test-Optional Schools 

  A handful of schools had established test-optional admissions policies before COVID-19 and numerous schools have adopted the practice, at least in the short term, in the of the pandemic.  

Should I Submit My SAT Score?

CollegeVine suggests taking a standardized test if you can do so safely and submitting scores that are at (or above) the 25th percentile for the school you’re applying to. Applicants who submit test scores are accepted at higher rates than those that do not and strong standardized test scores can only bolster your candidacy. For example, if you’re applying to Bowdoin, which has a middle 50% range of 1330-1510, you should submit a score of 1330 or higher. 

It should be noted that the pandemic has changed norms around standardized tests, which makes comparing scores year to year a challenge. For example, about 700,000 fewer students in the high school Class of 2021 took the SAT at least once compared to the Class of 2020. The number of students taking the SAT rebounded in 2022 , up roughly 15% from the previous year, but down 21% from its record number of test takers in 2019.  

The growth in the number of SAT test takers coincides with a drop in SAT scores. The average 2022 test score of 1050 is down ten points from 2021’s 1060 average SAT score. 

Determining what a good SAT score is for you has a lot to do with where you’re applying. If you’re interested in attending a top college, you should aim for a score that lands you comfortably in the top 50% of admitted students.   

All hope isn’t lost if your score falls outside of the SAT score range of your prospective schools, however, you’ll need to demonstrate achievement and excellence in other areas of your application.  

Middle 50% SAT Scores at Top 20 National Universities

Middle 50% sat scores at top 20 liberal arts schools, what to do if your score is too low.

If your SAT score doesn’t fall within the mid-to-high range of the middle 50% SAT scores at your desired college, you should try to get that score up before you apply. This is because many selective colleges use the Academic Index to filter out applicants. If your grades and scores aren’t good enough, you may be automatically rejected. 

Of course, it is possible to get in with lower scores, especially if you have stronger grades, or if you’re an underrepresented minority, legacy, or recruited athlete. But you should always strive for a score that’s as competitive, if not more, than those of accepted students.

Here are our tips for improving your score:

1. Make a Study Plan

Use your target score to help create a study plan. Work backward from the date you intend to take your test and break down your prep work into manageable chunks. Set time aside each day to prep for the test, especially for your weaker sections and concepts.

Take at least a few timed practice tests, but don’t only take practice tests. It’s important to hone in on your weaknesses so that they’re no longer an issue. You can drill certain types of questions, or take practice section tests.

2. Learn the Two-Passes Strategy

The two-pass strategy helps ensure you have time to answer all the questions that you find easy. The strategy is simple: first, answer every question that you know or that seems obvious, and skip the more challenging questions. After answering the “easy” questions, return to the ones you passed over. 

Make sure that you practice using this strategy in advance so that you can get your timing on each section just right. You should also pay special attention to your scantron, as you don’t want to accidentally mess up the numbering.

3. Use the Resources Available

SAT prep materials and courses are abundantly available, many of which are free. The most notable of these is offered by Khan Academy—the official study partner of the College Board. It’s been shown that studying 20 hours on Khan Academy leads to a 115-point average improvement. 

  •   Your Guide to Online SAT Prep Classes
  •     Your Guide to Free SAT Prep Classes

CollegeVine also has an abundance of useful information on its blog. Check out these awesome articles about SAT prep: 

  • Links to Every Free SAT Practice Test + Other Resource
  •   15 Hardest SAT Math Question
  •   Tips to Prepare Yourself for Your SAT Test Day
  •   How to Pace Yourself on Every Section of the SAT
  • 10 Tips to Improve Your SAT Score  

3. Apply to Test-Optional Colleges

Another option for students who underperform on the SAT is to apply to a school with test-optional admissions. Test-optional schools have been around for a while—Bowdoin, one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country , has had a test-optional admissions policy since 1969. As a result of the disruption COVID-19 had on standardized testing, a number of colleges are now practicing test-optional admissions.  

Test-optional admission is particularly beneficial for candidates with strong credentials—such as fantastic extracurricular activities and excellent grades—but lackluster test scores. They are also great for groups who generally are disadvantaged by standardized tests, like women, immigrants, students of color, people with disabilities, and first-generation students.

Despite the large number of colleges offering test-optional admissions, your SAT score remains a strong predictor of your future collegiate success. Colleges use standardized test scores along with GPA to determine your level of academic achievement, a major consideration in the college admissions process. Simply, strong test scores are a proven method to improve your chances of gaining admission to the schools on your college list. 

CollegeVine can help you learn how your SAT score affects your chances at hundreds of colleges across the country. Our free Admissions Calculator uses factors like your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to give you a personalized estimate of your chances at the schools of your choice!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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The Morning

A top college reinstates the sat.

Why other schools may follow Dartmouth’s lead.

A portrait of Sian Beilock, the president of Dartmouth College, standing by a window in an olive-green blazer.

By David Leonhardt

Dartmouth College announced this morning that it would again require applicants to submit standardized test scores, starting next year. It’s a significant development because other selective colleges are now deciding whether to do so. In today’s newsletter, I’ll tell you the story behind Dartmouth’s decision.

Training future leaders

Last summer, Sian Beilock — a cognitive scientist who had previously run Barnard College in New York — became the president of Dartmouth . After arriving, she asked a few Dartmouth professors to do an internal study on standardized tests. Like many other colleges during the Covid pandemic, Dartmouth dropped its requirement that applicants submit an SAT or ACT score. With the pandemic over and students again able to take the tests, Dartmouth’s admissions team was thinking about reinstating the requirement. Beilock wanted to know what the evidence showed.

“Our business is looking at data and research and understanding the implications it has,” she told me.

Three Dartmouth economists and a sociologist then dug into the numbers. One of their main findings did not surprise them: Test scores were a better predictor than high school grades — or student essays and teacher recommendations — of how well students would fare at Dartmouth. The evidence of this relationship is large and growing, as I explained in a recent Times article .

A second finding was more surprising. During the pandemic, Dartmouth switched to a test-optional policy, in which applicants could choose whether to submit their SAT and ACT scores. And this policy was harming lower-income applicants in a specific way.

The researchers were able to analyze the test scores even of students who had not submitted them to Dartmouth. (Colleges can see the scores after the admissions process is finished.) Many lower-income students, it turned out, had made a strategic mistake.

They withheld test scores that would have helped them get into Dartmouth. They wrongly believed that their scores were too low, when in truth the admissions office would have judged the scores to be a sign that students had overcome a difficult environment and could thrive at Dartmouth.

As the four professors — Elizabeth Cascio, Bruce Sacerdote, Doug Staiger and Michele Tine — wrote in a memo, referring to the SAT’s 1,600-point scale, “There are hundreds of less-advantaged applicants with scores in the 1,400 range who should be submitting scores to identify themselves to admissions, but do not under test-optional policies.” Some of these applicants were rejected because the admissions office could not be confident about their academic qualifications. The students would have probably been accepted had they submitted their test scores, Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s dean of admissions, told me.

That finding, as much as any other, led to Dartmouth’s announcement this morning. “Our goal at Dartmouth is academic excellence in the service of training the broadest swath of future leaders,” Beilock told me. “I’m convinced by the data that this will help us do that.”

It’s worth acknowledging a crucial part of this story. Dartmouth admits disadvantaged students who have scores that are lower on average than those of privileged students. The college doesn’t apologize for that. Students from poor neighborhoods or troubled high schools have effectively been running with wind in their face. They are not competing fairly with affluent teenagers.

Share of students admitted to Dartmouth, by test scores and student advantage

good sat essay score

25% of students admitted


Disadvantaged students

with lower test scores are

more likely to be admitted

than advantaged students

with the same scores.

good sat essay score

“We’re looking for the kids who are excelling in their environment. We know society is unequal,” Beilock said. “Kids that are excelling in their environment, we think, are a good bet to excel at Dartmouth and out in the world.” The admissions office will judge an applicant’s environment partly by comparing his or her test score with the score distribution at the applicant’s high schools, Coffin said. In some cases, even an SAT score well below 1,400 can help an application.

Questions and answers

In our conversations, I asked Beilock and her colleagues about several common criticisms of standardized tests, and they said that they did not find the criticisms persuasive.

For instance, many critics on the political left argue the tests are racially or economically biased, but Beilock said the evidence didn’t support those claims. “The research suggests this tool is helpful in finding students we might otherwise miss,” she said.

I also asked whether she was worried that conservative critics of affirmative action might use test scores to accuse Dartmouth of violating the recent Supreme Court ruling barring race-conscious admissions. She was not. Dartmouth can legally admit a diverse class while using test scores as one part of its holistic admissions process, she said. I’ve heard similar sentiments from leaders at other colleges that have reinstated the test requirement, including Georgetown and M.I.T.

And I asked Beilock and her colleagues whether fewer students might now apply to Dartmouth. Coffin, the admissions dean, replied that such an outcome might be OK. He noted that the test-optional policy since 2020 had not led to a more diverse pool of applicants and that Dartmouth already received more than enough applications — 31,000 this year, for 1,200 first-year slots. “I don’t think volume is the holy grail,” he said.

Finally, I asked Beilock whether she was satisfied with Dartmouth’s level of economic diversity, which is slightly below that of most similarly elite colleges. She said no. “We have aspirations to bring it up,” she said. Reinstating the test requirement, she believes, can help Dartmouth do so.

For more: Compare economic diversity at hundreds of colleges through our College Access Index .


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Lives Lived: Michael Watford helped birth a subgenre of club music known as gospel house. He died at 64 .

N.B.A.: The Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid will undergo corrective surgery on his left knee.

N.F.L.: Kliff Kingsbury is the new offensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders, a splashy hire .

Soccer: MetLife Stadium, outside New York, will host the 2026 World Cup final, FIFA announced . Dallas will field the most matches.


Women win: It was a big night for women at the Grammys. Taylor Swift won her fourth album of the year award, breaking the record for the category. Billie Eilish won song of the year, Miley Cyrus won record of the year and Victoria Monét was named best new artist. Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell performed. Here’s what else happened:

Celine Dion, coping with neurological disorder , presented the Grammy to Swift.

Swift announced a new album , coming out in April. Elle reports that fans online are scouring her relationship history to explain the title: “The Tortured Poets Department.”

Jay-Z, speaking with his daughter onstage, implied the Recording Academy had snubbed Beyoncé , CNN reports. “She has more Grammys than anyone, and never won album of the year,” he said.

See the most over-the-top outfits . (The Cut covered the worst and wackiest .)

Read more takeaways from the show and a complete list of winners .


Caramelize onions for French onion soup , a labor of love.

Watch “ Mr. & Mrs. Smith, ” an Amazon series based on the 2005 blockbuster film of the same name.

Get silk pillowcases for Valentine’s Day .

Make perfect stovetop rice .

Take our news quiz .

Here is today’s Spelling Bee . Yesterday’s pangram was tenacity .

And here are today’s Mini Crossword , Wordle , Sudoku and Connections .

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox . Reach our team at [email protected] .

David Leonhardt runs The Morning , The Times’s flagship daily newsletter. Since joining The Times in 1999, he has been an economics columnist, opinion columnist, head of the Washington bureau and founding editor of the Upshot section, among other roles. More about David Leonhardt

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Yale Reverts to Requiring SAT/ACT Test Scores for Its Class of 2029

Yale Reverts to Requiring SAT/ACT Test Scores for Its Class of 2029

Understanding Dartmouth's Revised Policy

What's Next for Applicants

This week Yale announced it will begin requiring standardized test scores for admissions, beginning with the Class of 2029 (applicants for the Fall of 2025). This makes Yale the second Ivy League School so far this year to abandon its test-optional policy, following Dartmouth. Yale's new policy includes some flexibility, however, for students already taking AP or IB tests.

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Yale Will Require Test Scores for the Class of 2029

Today, officials at Yale announced the school will be reinstating its requirement for SAT or ACT scores , but the new policy will be ‘test flexible.’

The new policy isn’t in effect for current applicants to Yale , but will be in effect for students applying to enter in the Fall of 2025 (Yale’s Class of 2029).

A Test Score Requirement with Flexibility

Applicants will choose which scores to include from four options:

  • Advanced Placement (AP)
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

Yale’s stated goal for the flexible provisions is to “empower applicants to put their best foot forward.”

Addressing Concerns About Equity

The school expressed concerns about the impact of its test optional policy, adopted in the wake of the pandemic, citing possible harm to applicants from low-income families, a finding the school leaders acknowledged was perhaps counterintuitive.

School officials found, however, that in the absence of test scores, students from well-resourced high schools have abundant ways to exhibit academic readiness, compared to students from less-resourced high schools, where access to rigorous courses and academic enrichment opportunities are more limited.

Our researchers and readers found that when admissions officers reviewed applications with no scores, they placed greater weight on other parts of the application. But this shift frequently worked to the disadvantage of applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

- yale's policy announcement, february 22, 2024.

Historically these exams have played a pivotal role in admissions decisions at top-tier universities, since they provide an objective indicator, compared to GPA , often impacted by school or classroom policies, or other subjective factors.

The term “test-optional” refers to a policy where submitting standardized test scores is at the discretion of the applicant. Test-optional policies gained widespread adoption in response to the pandemic.

Yale is the second Ivy to revert to requiring test scores, preceded by Dartmouth, announcing its policy change on February 5, 2024. Dartmouth’s new policy also goes into effect for the Class of 2029.

Yale Adds Flexibility to Its New Policy

In their announcement today, Yale officials also emphasized that prior to going ‘test optional’ in 2020, testing requirements accompanied significant gains in student diversity.

However, the new policy is designed to achieve an even more equitable admissions framework.

To that end, Yale’s new testing policy will be more flexible than in years past: students will have the option of submitting AP or IB scores in lieu of SAT or ACT scores:

Our positive experience of reviewing applications without ACT or SAT scores also taught us that requiring only those tests prior to 2020 likely discouraged some promising students from underrepresented backgrounds from applying.

For students who do opt to submit AP or IB test scores for admission to Yale, in lieu of SAT/ACT scores, the new Yale admissions policy for the Class of 2029 says “ applicants should include results from all [AP or IB] subject exams completed prior to applying.”

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Yale Re-affirmed Its Commitment to Holistic Admissions

Yale has an established tradition of evaluating applicants holistically, using a combination of ranking criteria, in addition to extracurricular profiles and admissions essays.

In announcing the new ‘test-flexible’ admissions guidelines , Yale leaders re-affirmed an ongoing commitment to maintaining a “thoughtful whole-person review process.”

Admissions officers read applications holistically, using all the information available to paint a picture of a student’s strengths and potential to contribute to a college community. An application is like a jigsaw puzzle: the picture is not complete without all its pieces.

- "standardized testing requirements," yale admissions office, when does the new testing requirement start.

Yale is reinstating the testing requirement, using it ‘test flexible’ approach, for the Class of 2029.

Students applying in the coming year — to enroll in the Fall 2025 — need to adhere to the new policy .

Delving into the details.

Yale's new standardized testing requirements come with guidelines that offer students, and families, ways to give themselves the best advantages possible when it comes to the scores they submit.

Here’s one important tip you can find in Yale’s guidelines that’s worth noting:

Prospective applicants should consider the exams they have completed and self-report the results that best complement the other academic information in their application—such as the high school transcript, honors and awards, and educational experiences outside the classroom.

In other words, students are encouraged to weight the pros and cons of submitting one set of scores vs. another , in terms of how it might impact their application profile.

Choosing Which Scores to Submit — A Hypothetical Example

In essence, Yale is suggesting you elect to submit the scores that best round out your overall application .

Let’s take a hypothetical example to illustrate.

Let’s imagine you blew your AP math exam AND didn’t have other stellar math grades on your transcript, but aced the math portion of the ACT. Thus, you could round out your math profile by submitting the ACT scores and withholding your AP subject scores.

However, in this same scenario, if your AP subject scores included great scores in Chemistry and History, you’d also have to take all that into account when deciding whether to submit ACT scores vs. AP scores.

For more guidance, Yale suggests applicants ask themselves the following questions:

When considering which scores to include with your application, consider the following questions:

  • Do the scores indicate my preparation for college-level coursework?
  • Do the scores reflect areas of academic strength?
  • Do the scores help showcase my academic range?
  • Do the scores supplement the courses and grades on my high school transcript?
  • Do the scores stand out as especially notable in my secondary school?
  • Am I proud of the scores as a reflection of the effort I put into preparing for the test(s)?

Declaring Which Scores You’re Submitting

Yale’s guidelines also preview how applicants will declare, in responses to prompts on the application form they use, which scores they’re submitting under the new guidelines :

1. Select one or more test types from the list of four options to indicate which scores you wish to have considered.

2. Self-report any scores from the test type(s) selected above that are not included elsewhere in your application.

3. Provide any details of circumstances that may have affected your experience preparing for or completing tests (optional).

How to Respond

Given the shifting landscape you may want to think about how you'll prepare for a college admissions future with more test score requirements. Learning about the concepts tested, making a plan that will help you achieve the best scores possible, and being diligent about SAT/ACT testing and reporting timelines, are all practical steps that will put you on the road to test success.

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts

It’s too soon to tell if other schools, and more of the Ivies, will follow Dartmouth’s and now Yale’s lead…

Harvard, for example, has stated it’s test-option policy is in place up through its Class of 2030. We’ll have to see what direction Harvard takes on its testing for admissions policy after that.

The University of California sytstem currently has a test-blind admissions policy in effect.

Statements from both Dartmouth and Yale spotlight concerns about equity, making it a prominent issue in what appears to be a gradual move away from the pandemic-era test optional policies.

If there’s substance to these claims, it will be interesting to see if that compels many more schools to follow suit in the coming years.

Whether for SAT or ACT test questions or support, or other kinds of personalized admissions planning, students are encouraged to book a free consultation with a Crimson counselor to start charting a more confident path to Yale or other leading universities.

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • Join our free webinars on US university applications
  • Free eBooks and guides to help with the college application process

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Class of 2028 Regular Decision Notification Dates

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Celebrating the Future: Meet the Crimson18u18 Winners of 2023

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  4. What is a Good SAT Essay Score?

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  6. What is a Good SAT Score?

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